‘Why do they hate Hillary Clinton so much?’

Updated 6:27 AM EDT, Mon March 21, 2016

Story highlights

Jay Parini: Clinton has high negatives after decades in positions of authority

But, he asks, is there any real reason to hate someone who would be one of the most qualified presidents in recent times?

Some of the hate is sexist, some is fear from Republicans who consider her a strong candidate, Parini says

Editor’s Note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont and is the author of “Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

Before I got out of bed this morning, my wife asked: “Why do they hate Hillary Clinton so much?”

Although I voted in the primary for Bernie Sanders, my senator from Vermont, I don’t dislike Clinton in the least. Quite the opposite. I will happily vote for her in November.

She is an admirable public servant, despite her obvious flaws, which are mostly the consequence of her decades in positions of authority. Every coin has two sides.

Her work as first lady certainly gave her a close view of life in the Oval Office – a time of “daring and hubris,” according to The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Amy Chozick, when she learned how the levers of power work. Having served as a U.S. senator for eight years, she knows how Congress functions – or doesn’t. And she has a vast comprehension of foreign affairs, having visited 112 countries during her years (2009 to 2013) as secretary of state – more than any previous person in that post.

Clinton’s achievements

Her achievements in Congress and at the State Department can’t be denied, though many will try. Don’t forget her courageous China speech on the rights of women, her aggressive work on climate change and her skill as a senator in guiding the Children’s Health Insurance Program through Congress. She helped to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas during a tense moment in Israel. I think of her successes in forging alliances in South America, Africa and Asia, and her part in establishing tough sanctions against Iran. That’s only the beginning.

And yet people hate her. Her negative ratings, in fact, have been shockingly high for someone this close to the nomination of her party. Indeed, one of the most frequently posed questions to the candidate herself is some version of “Why don’t they like you?”

Of course, Republicans have known for a long time that Hillary Clinton is an unusually strong candidate, and this terrifies them. So they have seized on talking points like Benghazi (for which she bears little or no responsibilit